An Island by Karen Jennings — everyone is talking about this book. There are other reviews but had to add mine!Goodreads
It’s a small gem but also a great masterpiece. Very Coetzeesque. It reminded me of Disgrace. Just brilliant and by one so young. Her observation of human life and behavior is acute. I can’t get it out of my mind.
The author wanted to explore certain complexities relating to the history of the African continent and how that history continues to influence the lives of individuals to this day but the island could be anywhere — off Africa, off South or Central America, off the US, off Australia.
… In An Island, specificity is jettisoned, as evidenced by the use of “an” and not “the”. The character is an old man called Samuel who tends to a lighthouse, a colonial remnant, off the coast of an unnamed African country, first clawed at and pawed and squeezed and ravaged by colonial overlords, then sucked dry by the country’s dictatorial “saviour”. Samuel is a nothing, a nobody, uneducated and unheroic, but he has had the one tiny luck of getting a job manning the lighthouse on the island after he is released from decades in a prison for being an enemy of the state (which sounds much grander than his actions were). But even on an island, history and the present catch up: sea creatures, once abundant, dwindle, plastic rubbish dots the landscape…and bodies of refugees wash ashore. There is no escaping the world’s violence, malice, greed and selfishness. And there is no protection from what those do to the self. No man is an island. […]
An Island is bleak and stark, and Jennings writes in plain sentences. I read An Island in what would have been one sitting, had it not been for the interruption of night.Karin Schimke Instagram
“… But having cracked open the slender spine, I found it to be even more unassuming and quiet – no prologue, no fanfare, no arcane dedication, hand-picked lines of poetry – even the acknowledgements are a mere eight grateful lines – but exquisite in its simplicity.Woman Zone CT
‘The First Day’ announces the opening chapter – and with that you step ashore. Onto Samuel’s island. Where he’s been lighthouse keeper for over two decades. Washing up with you is a body – one of many that have found their way onto the pebbly and unwelcoming beach.
You come to know well, if not its exact whereabouts off Africa, the lie of the island, its nooks, crannies, secret spots. As well as Samuel’s sparse, isolated cottage where everything has its place. But you don’t stay there. Because as his memory is jolted by the arrival of this body, this man, Samuel’s reflections take us back into the dark, sometimes troubled past he was marked by on the mainland. Again, Jennings doesn’t pinpoint the exact times and places of this not so long ago time but if you live towards the tip of Africa, you can feel it in your southern bones. Smell it in her carefully chosen words. By ‘The Fourth Day’, I was all but holding my breath.
I’m ashamed to have taken so long, but richer for reading such a thoughtful book, with a punch way above its weight.”
This is a book that gives us faith that the Booker prize judges are doing their job, for two reasons. The first is that this is the dark horse of the longlist, released quietly by a micro-publisher, unreviewed in the press until now, so it shows the judges aren’t just guided by big names.
An Island is the third novel by Karen Jennings, a South African novelist living in Brazil. It throws us into the world of Samuel, a lighthouse keeper who has withdrawn from the world and whose main concerns are looking after his chickens and maintaining his toenails. Oh, and occasionally he harvests corpses — refugees, others — who wash up on his shores. Unfortunately for Samuel, the 33rd dead body to arrive in his 23 years on the island turns out, despite his hopes, not to be dead after all.The Times
“Reading about Thembi’s young life in Sabhoza made me yearn for the abundant love, care and security that village life offered back then.”
Click the image below to read the review:
In this novel, I explore aspects of separation and connection. Several mothers I know are estranged from their adult children, and many of us are disconnected from nature, intuition and creativity. I track the nuanced task of knowing when to intervene and when to withhold action in the lives of our own or other women’s children.
However, there are situations where we need to cut – initiation, divorce, surgery. Breaking Milk uses the metaphor of milk and cheese-making to ground these preoccupations during one day in the life of Kate, a geneticist who became a farmer when ethics in her lab were compromised. I job-shadowed a friend to learn about this ancient craft that employs patience and invisible micro-organisms to preserve milk.
I am interested in the idea “you can be right, or you can have relationships”; also how our intelligence has had some disastrous consequences for the natural world on which we depend.
Embedded in these concerns is the role of women in society – what it takes to say no, and how a woman finds her feet after divorce. The books that have informed my inquiry are Disgrace by JM Coetzee, and Accident: A Day’s News by Christa Wolf.Sunday Times Books
Read about the organic cheese farm that inspired the setting for Dawn Garisch’s Breaking Milk: FYNBOSHOEK
Follow the cheese farm on Instagram: FYNBOSHOEK CHEESE FARM
But A Hibiscus Coast is not all satire. Mulgrew is a sensitive man, and he invokes and then banishes the wishes, regrets, dreams and frustrations that plague us. How difficult it is to write powerfully and meaningfully about feelings; our personal revelations are mostly boring to others. But Mulgrew’s technique is persuasive, at once chattily vernacular and then so lyrical he could name new palettes for Plascon.
This self-interrupting search is linked to his favourite theme, and one which he explores to its fullest in A Hibiscus Coast: the human responsibility to know ourselves in order to know others, and our obligation to tell the truth. We must face our old selves or be consigned to further continental drift.Sunday Times
Joanne Hichens has been extraordinarily brave in excoriating her soul in a searing and honest memoir about her attempts to survive the unendurable. In Death and the after parties – one of the best titles I’ve heard in a while, by the way – Joanne doesn’t spare herself as she examines the brutal rites of passage which death inflicts on her life.
The first death she endures is the expected decline of her own mother, who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. While this is a difficult and heart-rending experience, she is able to process it fairly well, as the months leading up to her mother’s death are preparation for the inevitable. By the end of this process, Joanne believes she “can do death”.
Fate has other plans for her, however. The mind-numbing shock of her husband’s heart attack and almost instantaneous death destroys the very fabric of her known world. She finds herself reeling with denial, guilt, despair and total devastation as her reality is ripped asunder. Her husband, Robert, a powerful personality and energy who filled up the space in her life as well as his children’s, is gone in a matter of hours. The loss is so enormous that Joanne cannot regain her equilibrium. Unflinchingly, she describes her descent into the deep depression experienced only by the truly heartbroken …Continue reading: An inter-review for LitNet by Janet van Eeden